A man—an eighteen-year-old boy—was shot and killed, and left for dead on a neighborhood street in Missouri for hours.
The grand jury has ruled that the police officer who shot Michael Brown will not face indictment. Riots have broken out. There is fire and tears and broken glass.
I don’t understand a lot of things.
I don’t understand how six holes in an unarmed body is self defense. I don’t understand how a human life was taken, and no one has paid for it except the boy who died, face-down on the street. I don’t understand how violence solves anything. I don’t understand how fighting violence with violence solves anything. I don’t understand how no one—no brave world leader—black or white, has stepped in or shown their face in Ferguson. I don’t understand how police are present at these riots to arrest angry protestors, but the national guard to put out the fires, is not.
But I do understand that the media spoon-feeds us certain, carefully selected images and ideas, “the cheap thrills that come with stereotyping black people as violent,” (Williams) and that people believe it. I understand that it’s dividing our country. That the media only wants to see more rage, so they fuel the fire. I do understand that they will stop protestors, but let people loot stores, because that’s what they want us to remember. I do understand that violent protesters have ruined the image of any peaceful protestors, because that’s all we are shown. I do understand that Michael Brown may have committed a robbery; I also understand that he was still a man—a human being possessing a life. I do understand that the police officer may have been scared, so he shot him. I do understand that not every black man is dangerous, that not every police officer is bad, and not every white person is racist. I do understand that lighting our American flag on fire is absolutely awful. That it’s not the most appropriate response to recent events… but what is an appropriate response anymore? I do understand that if the roles were reversed, that there is a very good chance that a black police officer would have faced arrestment. I do understand that the riots are wrong, but they in no way—nor should they in any way—mask the true ugliness of what is going on. I do understand that an eighteen-year-old was killed.
And I do understand that these people are angry.
People are angry.
A boy from their very own community was murdered right in front of their eyes.
They feel like they have no voice. They feel like this is the only way they can say what they need to say. The only way they can convey how angry and hurt and helpless they feel. They think that this is the only way people will listen. Even though it’s not.
And I can say all of this, because I am a black woman.
I grew up in a predominately white community. White neighborhood, white school, white friends. I was often the only black person in my class. Although I have experienced some moments of prejudice and racism, it has been rare, and I am very grateful for that. (Which is a strange concept in itself… why should I be thankful for being treated like a human being?)
But as a fellow African-American friend put it, something I will never be lucky enough to live with or experience is white privilege.
Zoe Elizabeth, a fellow JMU student and friend of mine, continued on the topic, saying this:
It has taught me since the day I was born that I have to work harder than many around me to earn the same type or even a fraction of the same respect or prove myself as equal and thus always knowing the world IS NOT always fair to us and we are treated and seen differently as a people.
And I could attest and relate to this clearly. I could be in the same exact situation as the person next to me, have the same qualifications or qualities—but I will always, always have to work ten times harder to prove myself. And this goes for every Black American.
It pains me that my father—a good man, who has done nothing but love others, work hard, and raise our family—has to be extra wary when it comes to his actions, because of the color of his skin. It scares me that when I was only 13, I remember my mother having to tell my brothers how to act if they ever happen to get pulled over. “Don’t wear your hood.” “Don’t make any sudden movements.”
Believe me. No one EVER wants to willfully think something is about race. I know for a fact that I have never once pleaded to walk into a situation and walk out thinking: Is it because I’m black? But sometimes that’s how it happens. Or at least, it’s a definite thought. And I live that every day.
Thinking that the shooting of Michael Brown even had to do with race—a man-made, social construction created more than two hundred years ago—makes me sick. But whether that bullet started with the idea of prejudice or not—that’s what all of this has ended with. That is what this has been made out to be.
So before you say “these people have no right to burn things or start riots” or any other heinous statement (I’ve seen: “You’re going to burn the flag? The country that saved your race out of slavery? GTFO of the United States” which made me LOL because Africans were taken from their native lands to serve as slaves), you better think long and hard, because—I’ll say this as nicely as possible—you have no idea what is like to be a Black American in this country unless you are a Black American.
The people of Ferguson are angry.
And they have every right to be.
I do not believe that the black community in Missouri will receive peace by looting, or starting fires. Anger in no way justifies crime and violence on the streets. It absolutely in no way at all makes it right.
But this is my point.
What our world is lacking right now is empathy. I’m not talking about pity, but pure empathy; understanding of this anger, recognizing the anguish, realizing the hurt. Seeing, sensing, tolerating, interpreting, fathoming.
Everything about this is hard. This is complex. And there are no right answers.
But there is a lesson learned.
This world, this country, desperately needs change.
Michael Brown’s father, the one man—if any—who should be lashing out in rage, instead released this statement alongside his family:
“I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
Whether this is a change in the system, a change in the decision, or a change in ourselves—it all starts with a change in our thoughts.
It doesn’t really matter what happened on the day that Michael Brown was killed. Whether the officer attacked, or whether Brown attacked him. Like Brown’s father said, this horrible tragedy has happened either way—and it has sparked discussion in our society.
We need to listen to others perspectives. We need to understand where people are coming from. We need to understand that it’s NOT just black lives that matter (that once again only reinforces/pigeonholes/isolates one race) but that ALL lives matter. And that’s why there needs to be justice.
I pray that there is peace in our country and that justice is served, in whatever form it may come. And I can only pray that someone, anyone, will read what I have written, and do just this: speak up.
I go to James Madison University, where we are taught to Be the Change.
So I will do just that.
It starts with speaking up. It starts with us.